Los Angeles. I looked out at the smog-clouded city and its diorama of street grids, freeways and moving car ants. Giant Hollywood film billboards dot buildings as a reminder of an urban succubus, wooing millions of young, aspiring artists to live out their sparkle in the hope for fame. This city would surely have more opportunities to work and travel than where I’m currently at. But in order to survive this city, I would have to adapt to the rules of its game.
What are the rules of the game when you’re single and starting over at 40?
The last time I lived here, I was in my twenties, tangled in the mechanisms of an ill-fit youth, striving to be something I wasn’t. It was all too easy to be swept away by the glamoratzi image of the city– to party hard, be social, to see-and-be-seen. Back then, I was a whisp of a shell in search of a voice and I thought I could find my voice outside of me .
Since then, travel and life experience helped me find my voice. No problem there. Now I was searching for my shell.
Travel and falling off your life wagon
In an effort to finish this post, I pushed to find words until my brain hurt. Frustration. Silence. Still no verdict.
Delete. Trash. New post. …And then I wrote this line:
” Travel can clarify who I am. It can also confuse it. “
And here it sat on my blog shelf for two years.
Coming home after living abroad in Korea and months of backpacking wasn’t easy. With the employment shortage in Hawaii, my career revival wasn’t working out and I couldn’t find work in my industry or anywhere else, despite every effort. My past travel lifestyles and their proven track record of successes taunted me. It made standing still an excruciating torture.
• You can have a travel job career, where you’re paid to be creative, do what you love and travel.
• You can get paid to travel, live and work abroad.
• You can travel abroad, simply and happily on little money and with few possessions.
I wanted it all, fast and I wanted it bundled up in a job that would pay me to travel. Yet as I made this my new lifestyle manifesto, passionately investing all my time and energy working all angles to see which would adopt me first, something odd happened. The harder I pushed towards redesigning my life towards travel, the more constipated my life got. Nothing flowed. Even regular job opportunities passed over and around me as work buzzards circled overhead. Not even scraps.
Being a “gypsy traveler ” or “solo female backpacker” playing my hand at being hobo on the road is vastly different from the freezing cold reality of being nearly hobo in your own country! There’s nothing happy, winsome, sexy or liberating about being unemployed in America.
For the first time in my life, I doubted my ability to manifest a successful travel life . Answers eluded me as to how I could’ve fallen off my life wagon. Was my life over at 40?
Was it time to put those dreams out to pasture and buckle down to a real job, with health benefits and where a suit behind an office desk asks you– Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years?
Meanwhile, each time I took a step towards that idea, my travel addiction worsened. It was my last saving grace and its affordability was drifting out of reach…
The meaning of shifting silences
Silence is loud if you actually stop to listen to it.
Delhi, India. It’s my third month in this country and the chaos of it is finally making sense! Once foreign, this land of brilliantly-colored saris, spiced food and Hindu temples, grows more familiar by the day. Swaddled in the warm dust of chaotic streets, filled with sweat-pushed rickshaws, drunkenly slow cows and zig-zagging bicycles, I flick my hand up and wobble my head, coarsely telling my Indian cabbie to “Chalo!” as we beep and rattle into the unknown. It’s a mystery how I can push through my fears to navigate such chaos. But somehow it happens. I feel alive, like a heroine in an unfiltered reality. No safety nets here. I’m moving through this big ‘ole world on my own, on travel steroids. A single woman. Content and happy. How did I do it?
I put one step in front of the other, expecting the unexpected and went with the flow.
Flash forward to today.
Hawaii. Back in my parent’s house. Warm tradewinds saunter through mango trees to kiss my face. The Koolau mountains paint a majestic backdrop of the strong, but gentle beauty of Hawaiian island life. I dine with a friend in a posh Honolulu cafe, ordering a $9 sandwich. Ouch, that’s a dent. Traffic is orderly and slow, but at $4/gallon it feels insufferable; it’s cheaper to not drive if you don’t have to. Being in Hawaii can sometimes feel like living in a small town in Asia. People never speak what they think; instead the game is intellectual and coded in layers and sublayers. You must “know people”, wait your place in line patiently and know your place in the system. Say or do the wrong thing at work, burn a bridge and it’ll haunt your career for life; it’s better not to talk (or post these types of confessions on your blog). How was I living it?
Just play by the rules, work hard, don’t lose your place in line and smile graciously. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get your big break at 50!
The only certainty is uncertainty
Life doesn’t get easier, the older we get. That’s just the basic assumption.
Life feels clearer the more I learn about myself, but it also feels more complex. Time, age, gender, finances, relationship status and all the imagined tripwires and societal pressures complicate my free movement.
We grow, outgrow, change identities and dreams. And yet, we still expect to have our lives figured out by age 20, 30, 4o, 50,…
Like clockwork, every ten years I find myself at the same crossroad, where I must choose between the safe path or the crazy path of my wildly-beating heart. Nine times out of ten, my heart addiction wins and the only certain path is uncertainty.
Like everything, I weigh the pros and cons of where I’m at in my life versus what I want. My pendulum shifts– Move abroad or stay in the United States? Fight for an old career or get a new one? Gamble on myself to win or play it safe?
Sometimes, discomfort is necessary to propel you forward.
When life shuts you down in all directions, you begin to look at solutions you might never have thought to try.
A river’s flow doesn’t stop just because it hits a wall. On the contrary, it goes over it or around it, finding crevices and cracks to continue its journey. Maybe that’s the other definition of ” following your destiny”.
Stubbornly, I want it all- my dreams, simplicity, a career in entertainment, financial growth… and yes, a job that lets me travel. Each part of the pie completes me. Separately, each will leave me less than full.
I long to travel the freedom and ease of an open road, an impromptu itinerary and a place, where not having answers makes sense, amidst foreign stares. I yearn to be lost and nameless, but to be an adventurer, who gains strength in the ability to survive on foot in a huge world.
And yet, I also long for the warmth of chains, to climb high-rise dreams like a mountaineer, to make a name for myself and to experience the challenge of living in western society, where like a gladiator, I gnash and gnarl at things, to test how good I am at getting them … and yes, at 40.
| I love this struggle of life . At the same time, I hate it. |
And that has a silent ring of being my truth.
In my case, who I am is not an “Either / Or” decision. My challenge is to find a comfortable balance for doing all the things I love, while I experience travel and explore the mystery of life around me.
Yes, travel pushed me off course, when I defined my happiness as a single plane ticket to escape the boredom of my life. I wanted it to be a cure-all shell to live in, so I wouldn’t need to deal with choices of how I could make the rest of my life’s needs and passions work. Meanwhile, those passions allow me to see and feel travel in the variety of life forms around me, …in challenges, people I meet and places I visit in order to create a bridge over bi-polar dreams.
It occurs to me now, that I didn’t really fall off my life wagon. I’ve riding on it all along… a traveler of my own life.
I’m putting one step in front of the other, expecting the unexpected and going with the flow.
How about you? Are you longing for a bit of gypsy freedom, which makes your heart beat with the wind; while desiring an ornate bracelet of chains and wedding rings?